Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

November 16, 2006

Beer Diary:

The Importance Of Style

In a perfect world, we wouldn't need beer styles. In a perfect world, someone would have invented the poopless dog, too.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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So I recently embarked on a road trip to Three Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Indiana to confront those abnormal brewers about their Alpha King Pale Ale. I needed to ask them where the Hell they got off calling that thing a pale ale. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Alpha King, like any true hophead would. But calling that thing a pale ale is like calling … crap, I can’t think of a good metaphor. If you can, send it to me. Anyway, the damn thing is hoppier than all get out.

OK, admittedly, pale ales are supposed to have a relatively assertive hop profile. The key phrase here being “relatively assertive.” Not “neck-wrecking.” The Alpha King is hoppier than most IPAs, and even a few doubles out there. I even had a cask-conditioned Alpha King that was the only beer I’ve ever thought was too hoppy—which is a tough one to pull off. Needless to say, the Alpha King has earned its name in spades.

So I cruised down to Munster and located the Three Floyds headquarters, a surprisingly small brewery in a quiet, relatively new industrial park. I bellied up to the bar in their very nice little brewpub, fortified myself with several fine Three Floyds brews, then braced the heavily tattooed, shaven-head bartender/brewer on the job that day, a dude named Barnaby.

“Where do you get off calling the Alpha King a pale ale, anyway?” I growled at him.

Without even a sliver of hesitation, he says, “Show me the rules! Show … me … the … rules.”

So what the Hell do you say to that, especially if the speaker is tattooed from here to Saturday, shaves his head, and has a hand in brewing some of the most kick-ass beer in the Midwest?

You stick up for the beer philistines (who I would normally feed the fire with, if given a choice), that’s what you do. So I tell him I was just thinking about the poor, non-Beer-Dork bastard who wanders into the local pub and asks for Heineken or Bud Light or some other form of rotten goat piss and, upon finding his favorite brand of tasteless swill has been drunk up by a gang of gutless frat boys, squints bewilderedly at the tap handles, sees the term “pale ale” beneath the Alpha King moniker and thinks, “Why, all the beers I like are pale, therefore I’m bound to like this … ‘Alpha King!’” And then that poor son of a bitch proceeds to burn half his face off on that hop monstrosity.

Barnaby countered with the argument that a drinking establishment’s friendly barkeep or server should keep ignorant patrons informed of what they are about to do to their bodies. Which is a valid argument. In a perfect world. In a perfect world, polar bears play with little fuzzy bunnies instead of eating them alive while drinking Coca-Cola and communism works. Because although most bartenders are well-informed about what they’re pouring, I’ve seen a few ignorami servers out their actually recommend the Alpha King to some unsuspecting dumb schmuck. Hey, maybe they were just sadists.

So who gives a rat’s ass, you might rhetorically ask. Well, you should, if you’re a Beer Dork, or even a wanna-be Beer Dork. Because now the poor sap who’s walking around with half his tongue missing will think all craft brews are shocking monsters just waiting to eat their children, and he’ll go back to drinking Amstel Light, wrongly thinking for the rest of his life that that abomination was as good as it gets.

Which brings me, extremely roundaboutly, to my point. The correct labeling of a beer’s style is important for this simple reason: so that consumers know what they’re getting. You can’t brew up a saison and call it a Russian imperial stout just for shits and giggles. Because somewhere down the line someone much bigger than you who bought that saison thinking he was getting an imperial stout is going to track you down and plant the empty bottle in your colon. In a perfect world, at least. Because I’m a firm believer in what comes around goes around.

Now, I’m not saying we need to develop some kind of Hammurabi’s Code for beer styles or anything like that. In fact, the only real “law” telling us what beer is supposed to be is the famous Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, which the modern American craft brewer took two glances at then (thankfully) threw out the window.

(Although purists and, especially, Germans like to sniff haughtily and explain that their beer is the best in the world because of the purity law, it was actually enacted by the German monarchy not out of any benevolent desire for quality, but in order to tax the living shit out of barley, yeast, hops and water.)

So, no, we don’t need any hard and fast rules. And I’m all for exploration and innovation, especially when it comes to beer. What I’m saying is, always keep style in mind when you’re evaluating, rating, ranking, judging, or just plain ol’ drinking a beer. Because if we Beer Dorks don’t keep those rascally craft brewers in line, who is?

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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